What’s a Witch to Do? A Midnight Magic Mystery By Jennifer Harlow: Book Review/Giveaway

Apr 6, 2013 | 2013 Articles, Cynthia Chow, Mysteryrat's Maze

by Cynthia Chow

This week we have reviews of a pair of mysteries from Midnight Ink-What’s A Witch To Do? A Midnight Magic Mystery By Jennifer Harlow, and Final Settlement: A Darby Farr Mystery By Vicki Doudera. At the end of this post are details on how to win a copy of What’s A Witch To Do?

What’s a Witch to Do? A Midnight Magic Mystery By Jennifer Harlow

For a High Priestess and manager of the Midnight Magic Shop, Mona McGregor has very little faith. Her mother died giving birth to her youngest sister when Mona was eleven, their father was killed by a drunk driver nine years later, and the grandparents who raised them died five years after that. Assuming the task of raising her two young sisters ever since the deaths, Mona has always been the responsible one, the one who took care of everyone’s problems, the one who sacrificed for the greater good. While these qualities make her the most qualified inheritor of her grandmother’s position as head of the largest coven of witches in North America, taking care of the young daughters who were abandoned by her irresponsible youngest sister only has her girding herself for Ivy’s inevitable return and a battle for the two girls. The startling appearance of the wounded werewolf Adam Blue stumbling to her doorstep with warnings that she is targeted for murder is just additional proof that Mona’s future is not so promising.

The only glimmer of hope for Mona are the recent attentions of the most eligible bachelor in Goodnight, Virginia, who perhaps is one of the few residents who is neither a relative of Mona nor aware of the existence of witches, werewolves, vampires, or other spookies who are monitored by the government police agency, the F.R.E.A.K.S squad (Federal Response to Extra-Sensory And Kindred Supernaturals). Without solid proof of who has put out a hit on Mona, though, she and Adam are on their own as they investigate who is intent on removing Mona and taking her place as High Priestess (a position she can’t imagine anyone wanting in the first place).

What I love about Mona is that she is not your typical witchy heroine. She’s thirty-five, a little on the chunkier side, and she has put dating completely aside in order to responsibly raise her young nieces. When she finds herself and her family in danger, she also has no problem taking over the investigation herself, even if it does mean breaking in homes, alienating her suspects, and ironically throwing Adam to the wolves in the form of her predatory, man-hungry cousin.

Although this is not a part of the author’s F.R.E.A.K.S. Squad Investigation series, it does take place in the same world with a few brief cameos by those characters. Although one does not have to be familiar with those books in order to read this mystery, a family tree would be helpful in sorting out Mona’s seemingly endless number of cousins and ancestral connections. The paranormal element is surprisingly light, with the focus being mostly on Mona’s growth and path towards finally allowing herself to experience joy and hope. The slow romantic connection that Mona finally experiences is written so believably and naturally that it flows seamlessly into the suspenseful plot and has the reader as hopeful as Mona for the relationship’s success. This is a very well-written and entertaining new series that skillfully combines romance, humor, the paranormal, and suspense.

Final Settlement: A Darby Farr Mystery By Vicki Doudera

When California realtor Darby Farr returns to her hometown of Hurricane Harbor, Maine, for her friend’s wedding, she only expects her biggest obstacle to be the confrontation with painful memories of her late parents. However, all is not quiet in the normally sleepy town. The body of Darby’s old schoolmate, and a former employee of the police department, was just discovered tangled up in a lobster trap line in what the Manatuck police deem an accident. However, Lorraine Delvecchio’s former boss, Hurricane Harbor’s Chief of Police Charles Dupont, doubts that Lorraine could have tripped on a path she walked every day and suggests to Darby that she ask a few questions that he cannot. Chief Dupont, about to list his home with the bride’s real estate company, discovers that the return of his ex-wife after fifteen years will complicate both the impending deal and his life. While Darby initially resented Dupont’s close friendship with her Japanese mother, she has since grown to respect and admire him. She soon succumbs to her own curiosity and starts looking into the life of her meek and reserved classmate.

It soon turns out that Lorraine proves to be a far more complicated character than Darby expected. Lorraine was both gifted and cursed with hyperthysmesia, a condition that gives a person’s memory extraordinary clarity. The condition caused her to remember every single event of her life so vividly that she could recollect every detail down to picture-perfect quality on any given date. What is even more shocking to Darby, is how Lorraine used her condition for profit in exploiting others. Being able to recall every event and interaction with others, proves to be an essential quality for a potential blackmailer–this leaves Darby with a wide assortment of suspects.

Returning to Maine was already a bittersweet experience for Darby, as she recently discovered that her Japanese grandfather may have had a hand in World War II atrocities against the Chinese. A new discovery of some of her mother’s belongings may either exonerate or incriminate him further. She asks a friendly federal agent, and an all-too-attractive Japanese snowboarder, for help translating a diary that details her grandfather’s confessions of the horrors of WWII. This in itself brings even more complications, as Darby must confront her reluctance to further commit in her relationship with British journalist Miles Porter, a man who offers both a promising future and a vulnerability to heartbreak.

While readers do not have to have read the previous three Darby Farr mysteries in order to enjoy Doudera’s latest, the author has done an extraordinary job at expanding on Darby’s past in a way that contains a continual thread throughout the mysteries and yet opens up a path for additional plots in future books. The reader is never left hanging though, and in fact Final Settlement speeds through a sequence of dramatic and shocking events that will leave one breathless. Told through multiple viewpoints, the cast of characters is crafted believably and sympathetically, with a theme of forgiveness and forgetting running throughout. As one character exclaims (and Darby herself later acknowledges), being able to remember the pain of past events makes forgiving all the more difficult and extraordinary in the present, and shutting off painful memories only results in losing the happy ones that accompany them. Full of beautiful details of a frosty Maine and populated by complicated and sympathetic characters, Doudera’s fourth mystery is an extremely satisfying tale of forgiveness, acceptance, and love.

To enter to win a copy of What’s A Witch To Do?, simply email KRL at life@kingsriverlife[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “Witch,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen April 13, 2013. U.S. residents only.

More mystery reviews, short stories and articles can be found in this issue, and those and others can be found in our mystery section.

Cynthia Chow is the branch manager of Kaneohe Public Library on the island of Oahu. She balances a librarian lifestyle of cardigans and hair buns with a passion for motorcycle riding and regrettable tattoos (sorry, Mom).

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  1. I like to read about witches

  2. We have a winner
    Lorie Ham, KRL Publisher


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